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Citrix HDX SoC technology empowers VDI shops to use cheap thin clients

VDI shops can take advantage of thin clients, which are cheaper and easier to manage than full-fledged laptops and desktops, by using Citrix's HDX SoC program.

The Citrix HDX System-on-Chip program aims to help VDI shops use thin clients instead of desktops and laptops, which reduces costs, power consumption and maintenance needs.

Citrix's High Definition User Experience (HDX) delivers high-definition virtual desktops to users on any device. System-on-chip (SoC) technology brings the tools a device needs to do its job onto one microchip. The Citrix HDX SoC program combines the two to create SoC reference designs that incorporate HDX directly into the client hardware. HDX includes network and performance optimizations that help deliver and scale virtual deployments while supporting audio, video and graphic technologies as well as peripheral devices.

In a traditional XenApp/XenDesktop deployment, the client devices use software to decode the HDX protocol, helping deliver a higher-quality user experience, but adding to the device overheard and maintenance. The SoC architecture addresses these issues by incorporating HDX acceleration directly on the chip. In fact, it integrates HDX in both the hardware and firmware, leading to better performance and higher graphic resolutions for virtualized desktops and their applications.

What is Citrix HDX SoC?

Citrix based the HDX SoC architecture on ARM chip technology, which is found in devices such as thin clients to deliver high-definition virtual desktops and applications. It is similar to the processors mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets use.

Device management becomes easier with thin clients, especially with purpose-built SoC architecture.

Citrix initially partnered with NComputing and Texas Instruments to create the first reference designs for the new chipset. Since then, numerous vendors have built on this initiative to deliver thin clients with SoC technology.

The SoC technology provides vendors with a standards-based chipset optimized for Citrix. In addition to the processors, the chipset includes a 3D accelerator, multimedia encoder and decoder, USB controller, and several other components typically found on a computer's motherboard.

The SoC chipset also provides direct memory access capabilities and uses a digital signal processor to reduce the load on the CPU. In addition, the chipset includes custom blocks in the silicone to deliver high-quality rendering for both the Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocol and HDX.

Citrix developed the ICA protocol as a way to deliver desktop and application workloads across different environments and connection types. Citrix then introduced HDX, a proprietary technology that extends the ICA protocol to meet the needs of modern, media-driven applications.

Outside the SoC chipset

Although the Citrix SoC technology provides many of the components that drive a device, it still needs other pieces to make it work. For example, a vendor building a thin client based on the SoC architecture must also add memory and storage, as well as physical connectors to support audio, video and USB capabilities.

In addition, SoC-based devices must run an embedded version of the Linux operating system as well as Citrix Receiver for Linux, the client software that interfaces with the XenApp/XenDesktop ecosystem. Receiver for Linux is available for devices based on either the x86 or ARM architecture and can run on repurposed PCs or dedicated thin clients. Citrix specifically optimized the ARM version of Receiver for Linux for the SoC architecture to get the best performance possible, while ensuring new releases continue to work on old SoC devices.

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Benefits of Citrix SoC

Devices based on SoC architecture can offer a number of advantages over traditional thin clients or repurposed PCs.

Although custom chips can be expensive to develop, the Citrix chipset uses common CPU, memory controller and USB controller components, which helps reduce costs.

Organizations can also save money because the SoC chipset consumes less power than a componentized system and is easier to cool. The SoC approach utilizes power at a more granular level, so admins can, for example, optimize clients for low power draws.

Plus, device management becomes easier with thin clients, especially with purpose-built SoC architecture, which has fewer moving parts. Vendors design HDX Ready devices with XenApp/XenDesktop integration in mind. Security becomes easier to manage too, because many functions are in the firmware rather than software, resulting in a smaller attack surface area.

The future of Citrix SoC

Since NComputing and Texas Instruments released the first generation of the Citrix SoC, vendors such as HP Inc. have built on the architecture to come up with their own HDX Ready devices. To encourage their efforts, Citrix provides them with the necessary software developer's kit to integrate device components as well as an infrastructure for verifying that the devices meet the Citrix Ready HDX standards.

More recently, Citrix announced that two of its partners, ViewSonic and Micro Center, have come out with HDX Ready SoC devices based on the Raspberry Pi platform. The devices come fully packaged and assembled and include everything users need to connect immediately to a XenApp/XenDesktop deployment.

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